He bought the plaque and hung it in his game room because he liked it. It said, “If you can keep your head while others are losing theirs, maybe you don’t understand the problem.”

That fits America like an expensive, well-tailored Italian suit.

I seriously doubt even five percent of the American people understand how easily Vladimir Putin could castrate America and NATO allies without firing a shot or risking so much as denting a Russian battlefield canteen cup.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are three tiny countries on the Baltic Sea bordering Russia’s northwest that achieved independence shortly after Russia’s defeat in World War I. Russia’s Communists won the civil war, and those three Baltic states lived happily ever after as free countries until 1939. Can you imagine waking up tomorrow morning and topping the news is word that Iran and Israel, complete with hugs and kisses, have signed a friendship and non-aggression pact? Multiply your surprise by infinity, and you have that morning in 1939 when we learned that Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had concluded such a pact. The deal: Germany would take western Poland while Russia could have eastern Poland and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. So, those three little nations were handed over to Stalin by virtue of a pact with the late Adolf Hitler.

This next item is rather dull but totally important. Ukraine was never “an ally” of the Soviet Union. It was as much a part of the Soviet Union as New York is of America or London is of England. This was Russia’s idea, never Ukraine’s! The nations the Soviet Union overran as the Red Army surged westward – Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and others – were, unlike Ukraine, never part of the Soviet Union. They masquerade as normal independent countries, though under Moscow’s direct rule. However, Estonia, Latvia and Estonia were, like Ukraine, integral parts of the Soviet Union. They, consequently, have huge Russian minority populations. Read this paragraph again. You’re going to need it on the exam.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, those three Baltic states went delirious with 1918 Independence all over again. The geyser of triumphalism that overtook America is embarrassing to look back upon but, sorry, we’d been locked in what could have been a civilization-ending Cold War and we won it, or thought we had. To our credit, I don’t recall any egregious bragging, gloating or rubbing Russia’s face in its failure. We were thrilled, relieved, optimistic and expectant of much more more money in our pockets in the form of a “peace dividend.” But we did something cooler heads and more cynical heads warned us against. We “enlisted” Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance, or NATO. The risk was clear. The motto of NATO is, “An attack on one is an attack on all!” That means that if one Russian boot crosses the border of any NATO member, forget “debate.” We’re committed. We’re obliged to defend the victim.

“Quit worrying!” we told those leery of such a broad and definite enlargement of the American commitment. “They’re beaten. There’s no more ‘Red Menace.’ They’re on their way to becoming a democracy as fast as they can.” Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first post-Soviet leader, said to the Duma (parliament), “While we’re at it, why don’t we just go ahead and outlaw the Communist Party in Russia?”

And now we’ve got a president ashamed of American military power, and a strongman in Russia who, like Hitler and Mussolini, longs to recapture lost glory.

Do you think we will go to war to defend Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania if all or any are attacked by Putin’s Russia? A smaller question, please. Were you aware that’s our commitment if a NATO member is attacked?

What were we thinking when we poked a jagged stick into Russia’s eye and extended America’s commitment to a breathtaking breaking point? I can tell you what they were saying at the time. An exultant Estonian was heard saying, “What a deal! We send six soldiers to Iraq, and America is then committed to come to our defense.”

Down at the bank, they love the story about the man who showed the teller a document in order to receive some money due him. “Just sign here, please,” asked the teller. “Look, Lady,” he replied. “I don’t sign stuff.” “I’m sorry, Sir,” she said. “I need your signature here to help you.” “Get this straight, Lady,” the man repeated. “I ain’t signin’ nothin’!”

She called the supervisor, an enormous body-builder who came down all smiles and invited the man into his office. When the door was closed and the teller safely out of earshot, the supervisor grabbed the man by the collar and, with muscles and tattoos bulging, said, “You sign that paper or I’ll break every bone in your body, and the ones that hurt the most, I’ll break twice!”

The man meekly returned to the teller and signed.

“Why didn’t you sign when I asked you to?” asked the teller.

“Well,” said the man. “You didn’t explain it the way he did.”

Media wishing to interview Barry Farber, please contact [email protected].


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